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Worldwide Mining History

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Worldwide Mining History

Mining Information

Mining is the extraction of valuable minerals or other geological materials from the earth, usually (but not always) from an ore body, vein or (coal) seam. Any material that cannot be grown from agricultural processes, or created artificially in a laboratory or factory, is usually mined.

Mining of stones and metal has been a human activity since pre-historic times. Modern mining processes involve prospecting for ore bodies, analysis of the profit potential of a proposed mine, extraction of the desired materials, and final reclamation of the land after the mine is closed.

Materials mined related to Worldwide Mining are:

Base metals

  • Copper
  • Iron ore (Iron)
  • Galena (Lead)
  • Gemstones
  • Diamonds

Fossil fuels

  • Coal

Precious metals

  • Gold
  • Silver
  • Platinum

There are many types of mining, but the main ones resulting in mining disasters are mountaintop removal mining, where the overburden on a mountain is pushed off the mountain into the adjacent valley. This is usually done using explosives. Underground mining is another of which there are two main types classified by the characteristic of the rock being mined. Classification is set to either hard rock or soft rock. There are three directions by which an underground mine may be conducted:

  1. Drift mining, mining horizontally
  2. Shaft mining, mining vertically
  3. Slope mining, mining at an inclined angle

Equipment used for excavation:

  • Steam shovel, used from the 19th century to the 1930s
  • Power shovel, derived from the steam shovel, but using electricity instead of steam
  • Excavator, derived from the steam shovel, but using hydraulics or pneumatics instead of steam
  • Draglines use buckets attached to long cable lines, rather than affixed to a beam
  • Bucket-wheel excavator, the largest moving land machines ever built
  • Dredge
  • Blasting
  • Rock blasting

Explosives used based on the time in history:

  • Gunpowder or black powder, used from the 17th century to the mid-19th century
  • Dynamite, used from the mid-19th century into the 20th century, still used some today
  • ANFO, used from the 20th century, and the primary explosive in use today

History of Mining

Mining, as one of the most ancient industries, has shaped the cultural landscapes and influenced the evolution of civilizations in all parts of the world. Human settlements, traditions, cultures, beliefs, economic and social systems were characterized by the impact of mining throughout history.

Rather than laying out details of mining history, which is interesting and voluminous, please see the links to Mining History below, and the regional history contained within those mining pages.

There are two books that are particularly comprehensive and definitive on the history noted to be excellent for their content. I am providing the information here as well as the synopsis (and declare there is no monetary compensation for doing so).

The first is Mining in World History (Globalities) by Martin Lynch, Reaktion Books, Aug 2, 2004 - Technology & Engineering - 356 pages. This book deals with the history of mining and smelting from the Renaissance to the present. Martin Lynch opens with the invention, sometime before 1453, of a revolutionary technique for separating silver from copper. It was this invention which brought back to life the rich copper-silver mines of central Europe, in the process making brass cannon and silver coin available to the ambitious Habsburg emperors, thereby underpinning their quest for European domination. Lynch also discusses the Industrial Revolution and the far-reaching changes to mining and smelting brought about by the steam engine; the era of the gold rushes; the massive mineral developments and technological leaps forward which took place in the USA and South Africa at the end of the 19th century; and, finally, the spread of mass metal-production techniques amid the violent struggles of the 20th century. In an engaging, concise and fast-paced text, he presents the interplay of personalities, politics and technology that have shaped the metallurgical industries over the last 500 years.

The second is The History of Mining: The events, technology and people involved in the industry that forged the modern world Hardcover – November 19, 2012 by Michael Coulson. THE INDUSTRY THAT FORGED THE MODERN WORLD

Throughout history metals and raw materials have underpinned human activity. So it is that the industry responsible for extracting these materials from the ground - mining - has been ever present throughout the history of civilisation, from the ancient world of the Egyptians and Romans, to the industrial revolution and the British Empire, and through to the present day, with mining firms well represented on the world's most important stock indexes including the FTSE100.

This book traces the history of mining from those early moments when man first started using tools to the present day where metals continue to underpin economic activity in the post industrial age. In doing so, the history of mining methods, important events, technological developments, the important firms and the sparkling personalities that built the industry are examined in detail. At every stage, as the history of mining is traced from 40,000 BC to the present day, the level of detail increases in accordance with the greater social and industrial developments that have played out as time has progressed. This means that a particular focus is given to the period since the industrial revolution and especially the 20th century. A look is also taken into the future in an effort to chart the direction this great industry might take in years to come.

World’s Worst Mining Disasters

Mining accidents are those that occur during the course of mining with coal mining considered the most dangerous due to the characteristics of coal mines. Thousands have died in mining accidents around the world, but with safety measures and government acts instituting mine safety and training, these have decreased significantly, but many still occur with the majority of 20th and 21st century mining deaths occurring in developing nations.

Source info and mining disasters by time may be found in this article: Mining Accident

Coal Mine Disasters
Map No. Date Deaths Mine Location
1 1942 1,549 Benxihu Colliery Explosion China
2 1903 1,099 Courrières Mine Disaster Courrières, France
3 1914 687 Mitsubishi Hojo Kyushu, Japan
3 1914 422 New Yubari Yubari, Hokkaido, Japan
3 1917 376 Onoura Kirino, Kyu shu, Japan
4 1960 682 Laobaidong Colliery, Coal Dust Explosion Datong China
5 1972 472 Wankie Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe
6 1963 458 Mitsui Miike Omuta, Kyu¯shu¯, Japan
7 1913 439 Senghenydd Colliery Disaster Senghenydd, Wales
8 1960 437 Coalbrook South Africa
9 1946 405 Bergkamen West Germany
10 1965 375 Coal Mine Bihar, Dhanbad, India
10 1975 372 Chasnala Mining Disaster, Sudamdih Colliery Dhanbad, India
11 1907 365 Hokoku Itoda, Kyushu, Japan
12 1907 362 Monongah West Virginia
13 1866 361 Oaks Colliery Barnsley, England
The #3 New Yubari, Yubari, Hokkaido, Japan and Onoura, Kirino, Kyu shu, Japan coal mine disasters are included as they are in such close vicinity of the world's 3rd worst mining disaster in history, with the New Yubari, Yubari disaster occurring just 2 weeks prior to that devastating occurrence at the Mitsubishi Hojo Mine.
Likewise, the 2 India coal mine disasters listed as #10 on the map and table, occurred 10 years apart from each other in the same town and are respectively the 7th and 8th world's worst mining disasters in history.
Special thanks to Carol MacLean for providing the table above from which I created the Top 13 map. She honors the miners in the CB in Canada, and additional information will be used for the Canada Region pages.
Special thanks also to The Safety Consortium for graciously granting me permission to print the following article in its entirety regarding the 10 world's worst mining disasters with its specific industry observations.

Mining is a dangerous industry and has resulted in thousands of deaths caused by a variety of hazards including coal dust explosions, methane gas, rock falls and carbon monoxide poisoning as well as long term health problems such as black lung.
These are the top ten mining disasters as determined by the number of fatalities, however it needs to be remembered that accurate death tolls were not always available, sometimes because bodies were unable to be recovered, records were incomplete or for political reasons.
1 – Honkeiko Colliery, China (April 26, 1942): China has arguably the worst mining record of any country with statistics showing that miners are 350 more times likely to die there than anywhere else. There are still mining deaths occurring in China but the worst occurred in Honkeiko (or Benxihu) Colliery in 1942. When the entrance to the mine collapsed because of a coal dust explosion it trapped thousands of workers, and 1,549 are estimated to have died. In an effort to contain the blaze, the Japanese authorities switched off ventilation, and sealed the mine’s entrance, suffocating the trapped workers.
2 – Courrieres, France (March 10, 1906): 1,099 miners died (including many children) in what was the worst ever pit disaster in Europe. A large dust explosion devastated the mine shortly after 6:30 am on Saturday, March 10, 1906.
3 – Mitsubishi Hojyo Coal Mine, Kyushu, Japan (December 15, 1914): A deadly gas explosion at the Mitsubishi Hojyo coal minein Kyushu, Japan, killed 687 miners, making it the worst mining disaster in Japan’s history.
4 – Coalbrook, South Africa (January 1, 1960): The tragedy of that is the deadliest mining accident in South Africa’s history is compounded by the fact deaths could have been prevented. A rock fall trapped miners in a section of the mine but since the mining company was not equipped with a drill large enough to create an exit for them there was no way to escape. 437 miners perished. To add to this blunder, there had been reports supervisors sent miners exiting the tunnel after earlier rock falls back into the mine.
5 – Wankie No.2 Colliery, Wankie, Rhodesia (June 6, 1972): At 10:30am on Tuesday, June 6, 1972 a methane explosion in an extraction panel underneath a mountain called Madumabisa (Wankie No.2 Colliery). The initial explosion was followed shortly after by a coal-dust explosion that swept through the mine at such an incredible speed that not one of the 426 miners killed stood a chance.
6 – Dhori Colliery, Dhanbad, India (May 28, 1965): The Dhanbad coal mine disaster occurred on May 28, 1965, in a coal mine near Dhanbad, a town in India. On the fateful day, there was an explosion in Dhori colliery near Dhanbad, which led to fire in the mines. The fire killed 375 miners. Dhori Colliery is located near Bermo.
7 – Senghenydd Colliery, Senghenydd, Wales (October 14, 1913): During a time of record coal production, Welsh mining was dogged by poor safety standards with several deadly accidents happening in the early part of the 20th century. The worst was at where 438 men and boys were killed by a methane explosion ignited by coal dust. Only 72 bodies were ever recovered.
8 – Coal Mine, Chasnala, India (December 27, 1975): A coal mine in Chasnala near Dhanbad experienced a deadly explosion that resulted in 7,000,000 gallons of water per minute to flood the mine and killed 372 miners, who were trapped under mountains of debris.
9 – Oaks Mine, Barnsley, England (December 12, 1866): Several explosions ripped through The Oaks mine killing all but six of the 340 miners working at the time. Several other employees of the colliery and rescuers were killed in the blasts that followed bringing the total number of deaths to 361. A furnace man had a remarkable escape having being knocked to the ground by the force of the explosion he was discovered by rescuers, unconscious, but with a dead cat in his arms.
10 – Monongah, West Virginia, USA (December 6, 1907): Believed to be the reason for Father’s Day, the Monongah mining disaster is the worst in American history killing 361 miners. An explosion ripped through the network of mines with such speed and force that some bodies were discovered with food still in their mouths. The official death toll is said to be very conservative with some estimating the total was more than 600 with horrific stories of workers as young as 13 being caught up in the resulting blaze.
While death and injury can and still do happen, mining safety standards have improved significantly and this is partly due to the advancement of GPS tracking used to improve miner safety.
Article printed with permission - See Acknowledgment above. Top 10 Mining Disasters
While the Top 10 does not include mining disasters of the 21st century, there have been several disasters making international news with great loss of life.

Further Reading

Here are some links of further interest of the world's worst mining catastrophes:
These are relevant to mining history:


  • Other sources referenced are those listed under the "Further Reading" links above.

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Categories: Mining Disasters